Audiences 2005-2013 51212
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of his Letter to the Christians of Ephesus (cf. Ep 1,3-14), the Apostle Paul raised a prayer of blessing to God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which leads us to experience the Season of Advent, in the context of the Year of Faith. The theme of this hymn of praise is God’s plan for man, described in terms full of joy, wonder and thanksgiving, according to his “benevolent purpose” (cf. v. 9), of mercy and love.
Why does the Apostle raise this blessing to God from the depths of his heart? It is because he sees God’s action in the perspective of salvation which culminated in the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Jesus, and contemplates how the heavenly Father chose us even before the world’s creation, to be his adoptive sons, in his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rm 8,14f. Ga 4,4f). We had always existed in God’s mind in a great plan that God cherished within him and decided to implement and to reveal in “the fullness of time” (cf. Ep 1,10). St Paul makes us understand, therefore, how the whole of creation and, in particular, men and women, are not the result of chance but are part of a benevolent purpose of the eternal reason of God who brings the world into being with the creative and redemptive power of his word. This first affirmation reminds us that our vocation is not merely to exist in the world, to be inserted into a history, nor is it solely to be creatures of God. It is something more: it is being chosen by God, even before the world’s creation, in the Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore in him we have existed, so to speak, for ever. God contemplates us in Christ, as his adoptive sons. God’s “purpose” which the Apostle also describes as a plan “of love” (Ep 1,5) is described as “the mystery” of his divine will (v. 9), hidden and now revealed in the Person of Christ and in his work. The divine initiative comes before every human response: it is a freely given gift of his love that envelops and transforms us.
But what is the ultimate purpose of this mysterious design? What is the essence of God’s will? It is, St Paul tells us, “to unite all things in him [Christ], the Head” (v. 10). In these words we find one of the central formulas of the New Testament that makes us understand the plan of God, his design of love for the whole of humanity, a formula which, in the second century, St Irenaeus of Lyons established as the core of his Christology: to “recapitulate” the whole of reality in Christ. Perhaps some of you may remember the formula used by Pope St Pius X for the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Instaurare omnia in Christo”, a formula that refers to the Pauline expression and was also the motto of this holy Pope. However the Apostle speaks more precisely of the recapitulation of the universe in Christ. This means that in the great plan of creation and of history, Christ stands as the focus of the entire journey of the world, as the structural support of all things, and attracts to himself the entire reality in order to overcome dispersion and limitation and lead all things to the fullness desired by God (cf. Ep 1,23).
This “benevolent purpose” was not, so to speak, left in the silence of God, in his heavenly heights. Rather, God made it known by entering into a relationship with human beings to whom he did not reveal just something, but indeed himself. He did not merely communicate an array of truths, but communicated himself to us, even to the point of becoming one of us, of taking flesh. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council says in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself [not only something of himself but himself] and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (n. 2). God does not only say something, but communicates himself, draws us into his divine nature so that we may be integrated into it or divinized. God reveals his great plan of love by entering into a relationship with man, by coming so close to him that he makes himself man. The Council continues: “the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex Ex 33,11 Jn 15,14-15), and moves among them (cf. Bar Ba 3,38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company” (ibid.). With their own intelligence and abilities alone human beings would not have been able to achieve this most enlightening revelation of God’s love; it is God who has opened his heaven and lowered himself in order to guide men and women in his ineffable love.
St Paul writes further to the Christians of Corinth: “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’, God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1Co 2,9-10). And St John Chrysostom, in a famous passage commenting on the beginning of the Letter to the Ephesians, with these words asks that the faithful enjoy the full beauty of this “loving plan” of God revealed in Christ: “What do you lack yet? You are made immortal, you are made free, you are made a son, you are made righteous, you are made a brother, you are made a fellow-heir, you reign with Christ, you are glorified with Christ; all things are freely given you”, and, as it is written, “will he not also give us all things with him?’ (Rm 8,32). Your First-fruits (cf. 1Co 15,20) is adored by Angels.... What do you lack yet?” ().
This communion in Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit, offered by God to all men and women with the light of Revelation, is not something that is superimposed on our humanity; it is the fulfilment of our deepest aspirations, of that longing for the infinite and for fullness, which dwells in the depths of the human being and opens him or her to a happiness that is not fleeting or limited but eternal. Referring to God who reveals himself and speaks to us through the Scriptures to lead us to him, St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio says: “Holy Scripture... its words are words of eternal life, and it is written not just so that we should believe, but specially so that we should possess eternal life in which we may see, and love, and have all our desires fulfilled” (Breviloquium, Prologue; Opera Omnia V, 201f.). Lastly, Blessed Pope John Paul II recalled that “Revelation has set within history a point of reference which cannot be ignored if the mystery of human life is to be known. Yet this knowledge refers back constantly to the mystery of God which the human mind cannot exhaust but can only receive and embrace in faith” (Encyclical Fides et Ratio FR 14).
Therefore, in this perspective, what is the act of faith? It is man’s answer to God’s Revelation that is made known and expresses his plan of love; to use an Augustinian expression it is letting oneself be grasped by the Truth that is God, a Truth that is Love. St Paul stresses that since God has revealed his mystery we owe him “the obedience of faith” (Rm 16,26 cf. Rm 1,5 2Co 10,5-6), by which attitude “man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals’, and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by him” (Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum DV 5). All this leads to a fundamental change in the way of relating to reality as a whole; everything appears in a new light so it is a true “conversion”, faith is a “change of mentality”. This is because God revealed himself in Christ and made his plan of love known, he takes hold of us, he draws us to him, he becomes the meaning that sustains life, the rock on which to find stability. In the Old Testament we find a concentrated saying on faith which God entrusted to the Prophet Isaiah so that he might communicate it to Ahaz, King of Judah. God says, “If you will not believe” — that is, if you are not faithful to God — “surely you shall not be established” (Is 7,9). Thus there is a connection between being and understanding which clearly expresses that faith is welcoming in life God’s view of reality, it is letting God guide us with his words and sacraments in understanding what we should do, what journey we should make, how we should live. Yet at the same time it is, precisely, understanding according to God and seeing with his eyes that makes life sure, that enables us to “stand” rather than fall.
Dear friends, Advent, the liturgical Season that we have just begun and that prepares us for Holy Christmas, sets us before the luminous mystery of the coming of the Son of God, the great “benevolent purpose” with which he wishes to draw us to him, to enable us to live in full communion of joy and peace with him. Advent invites us once again, in the midst of so many difficulties, to renew the certainty that God is present: he entered the world, making himself man, a man like us, to fulfil his plan of love. And God asks that we too become a sign of his action in the world. Through our faith, our hope and our charity, he wants to enter the world ever anew and wants ever anew to make his light shine out in our dark night.
To special groups:
I offer a cordial welcome to the pilgrimage group from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. My greeting also goes to the Anglican visitors from Ardingly College. I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, including the groups from Australia and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.The Season of Advent that has just begun is lit up in these days by the radiant example of the Immaculate Virgin. May she encourage you, dear young people on your journey of adherence to Christ. For you, dear sick people, may Mary be your support for a renewed experience of adherence to Christ. And for you, dear newlyweds, may she be your guide in building your family.
Disturbing news is continuing to arrive of the grave humanitarian crisis in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has been the scene of armed conflicts and violence for months. A large part of the population lacks basic food and thousands of inhabitants have been obliged to flee their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. I therefore renew my appeal for dialogue and for reconciliation and ask the international community to do its utmost to meet the people’s needs
Paul VI Audience Hall12122
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our Catechesis last week I spoke of the Revelation of God as a communication he makes of himself and of his benevolent and loving purpose. This Revelation of God fits into human time and history: a history that becomes “the arena where we see what God does for humanity. God comes to us in the things we know best and can verify most easily, the things of our everyday routine, apart from which we cannot understand ourselves” (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et Ratio FR 12).
St Mark the Evangelist — as we have heard — records the very start of Jesus’ preaching in clear and concise words: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mc 1,15). What illuminates and gives full meaning to the history of the world and of man begins to shine out in the Bethlehem Grotto; it is the Mystery which, in a little while, we shall be contemplating at Christmas: salvation, brought about in Jesus Christ. In Jesus of Nazareth God shows his face and asks man to choose to recognize and follow him. God’s revelation of himself in history in order to enter into a relationship of loving dialogue with man, gives new meaning to the whole human journey. History is not a mere succession of centuries, years or days, but the time span of a presence that gives full meaning and opens it to sound hope.
Where can we read the stages of this Revelation of God? Sacred Scripture is the best place for discovering the steps of this process, and, I would like — once again — to invite everyone, in this Year of Faith, to open the Bible more often, to hold, read and meditate on it and to pay greater attention to the Readings of Sunday Mass; all this is precious nourishment for our faith. In reading the Old Testament we can see how God intervenes in the history of the chosen people, the people with whom he made a covenant: these are not fleeting events that fade into oblivion. Rather, they become a “memory”, taken together they constitute the “history of salvation”, kept alive in the consciousness of the People of Israel through the celebration of the salvific events. Thus, in the Book of Exodus, the Lord instructs Moses to celebrate the Jewish Passover, the great event of the liberation from slavery in Egypt, with these words: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” (Ex 12,14).
Commemorating what God has brought about becomes a sort of constant imperative for the whole People of Israel, so that the passing of time may be marked by the living memory of past events which, in this way, day after day, form history and live on.
In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses addresses the people saying: “Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Dt 4,9).
Consequently he also tells us: “be careful not to forget the things that God has done for us”. Faith is nourished by the discovery and memory of the ever faithful God who guides history and constitutes the sound and permanent foundation on which to build our life. The Canticle of the Magnificat, which the Virgin Mary addresses to God, is a lofty example of this history of salvation, of this memory that makes and keeps God’s action present. Mary exalts God’s merciful action in the actual journey of his people, his fidelity to the promises of the covenant that he made to Abraham and his descendents; and all this is a living memory of the divine presence that is never absent (cf. Lc 1,46-55).
For Israel, the Exodus is the central historical event in which God reveals his powerful action. God sets the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt so that they may return to the Promised Land and worship him as the one true Lord. Israel does not set out to be a people like others — so that it might have national independence — but also to serve God in worship and in life, to create a place for God where men and women are obedient to him, where God is present and worshipped in the world — and of course, not only among the Israelites — but to witness to him also among the other peoples.
The celebration of this event is to make him present here and now, so that God’s action may not be lacking. He fulfilled his plan of liberation and continues to pursue it so that men and women may recognize and serve their Lord and respond to his action with faith and love.
So it was that God revealed himself not only in the primordial act of the Creation, but also by entering our history, the history of a small people which was neither the largest nor the strongest. And this self- revelation of God, which develops through history, culminates in Jesus Christ: God, the Logos, the creative Word who is the origin of the world, took on flesh in Jesus and in him showed the true face of God.
In Jesus every promise is fulfilled, the history of God with humanity culminates in him. When we read the account of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus which St Luke has written down for us, we become clearly aware of the fact that the Person of Christ illuminates the Old Testament, the whole history of salvation, and shows the great unitive design of the two Testaments, it shows the path to his oneness. Jesus, in fact, explains to the two bewildered and disappointed wayfarers that he is the fulfilment of every promise: “and beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lc 24,27). The Evangelist records the exclamation of the two disciples after they had recognized that their travelling companion was the Lord: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (v. 32).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the development of Divine Revelation (cf. nn. 54-64): From the very first the Lord invited men and women to intimate communion with himself and, even when through disobedience they lost his friendship, God did not abandon them to the power of death but time and again offered them covenants (cf. Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV).
The Catechism retraces God’s journey with man from the Covenant with Noah after the flood, to the call to Abraham to leave his land to be made the father of a multitude of peoples. God forms his People Israel in the event of the Exodus, in the Covenant of Sinai and in the gift, through Moses, of the Law, in order to be recognized and served as the one living and true God. With the prophets, God forms his People in the hope of salvation.
We know — through Isaiah — of the “second Exodus”, the return of the People from the Babylonian Captivity to their own land, its refoundation; at the same time, however, many were dispersed and in this way began the universality of this faith. In the end, not only a King, David, a son of David, was awaited, but a “Son of man”, the salvation of all peoples. Encounters between cultures took place, first with Babylon and Syria, then also with the Greek multitude. Thus we see how God’s path broadens, how it unfolds increasingly towards the Mystery of Christ, King of the Universe. In Christ the Revelation in its fullness, God’s benevolent purpose, is brought about at last: he makes himself one of us.
I have reflected on remembering God’s action in human history to show the stages of this great plan of love, witnessed in the Old and New Testaments. It is a single plan of salvation, addressed to the whole of humanity, gradually revealed and realized through the power of God, in which God always reacts to man’s responses and finds the new beginnings of a covenant when man strays.
This is fundamental in the journey of faith. We are in the liturgical season of Advent which prepares us for Holy Christmas. As we all know, “advent” means “coming”, “presence”, and in ancient times it meant, precisely, the arrival of the king or emperor in a specific province. For Christians the word means a marvellous and overwhelming reality: God himself has crossed the threshold of his heaven and has lowered himself to man; he has made a covenant with him, entering the history of a people; he is a king who came down to this poor province which is the earth, and made a gift to us of his visit, taking our flesh and becoming a man like us. Advent invites us to retrace the journey of this presence and reminds us over and over again that God did not take himself away from the world, he is not absent, he has not left us to ourselves, but comes to meet our needs in various ways that we must learn to discern. And we too, with our faith, our hope and our charity, are called every day to perceive this presence and to witness to it in the world that is often superficial and distracted, and to make the light that illuminated the Grotto of Bethlehem shine out. Thank you.
To special groups:
I offer a cordial welcome to the newly professed Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. My greeting also goes to the group of visitors from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Upon all the English- speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, a thought for the young people, the sick, and the newlyweds.Today we are celebrating the Memorial of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and also Patroness of the New Evangelization. Dear young people, may you learn at Mary’s school to love and to hope; dear sick people, may the Blessed Virgin be a companion and comfort to you in your suffering; and you, dear newlyweds, entrust your journey through married life to the Mother of Jesus.
Paul VI Audience Hall19122
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Virgin Mary has a special place in the journey of Advent as the One who, in a unique way, awaited the fulfilment of God’s promises, welcoming Jesus the Son of God in faith and in the flesh and with full obedience to the divine will. Today, I wish to ponder briefly with you on Mary’s faith, starting from the great mystery of the Annunciation.
“Chaîre kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou”, “Hail, [rejoice] full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lc 1,28). These are the words — recorded by Luke the Evangelist — with which the Archangel Gabriel addresses Mary. At first sight the term chaire “rejoice”, seems an ordinary greeting, typical in the Greek world, but if this word is interpreted against the background of the biblical tradition it acquires a far deeper meaning. The same term occurs four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament and always as a proclamation of joy in the coming of the Messiah (cf. So 3,14 Jl 2,21 Za 9,9 Lm 4,21).
The Angel’s greeting to Mary is therefore an invitation to joy, deep joy. It announces an end to the sadness that exists in the world because of life’s limitations, suffering, death, wickedness, in all that seems to block out the light of the divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News.
But why is Mary invited to rejoice in this way? The answer is to be found in the second part of the greeting: “The Lord is with you”. Here too, if we are to understand correctly the meaning of these words we must turn to the Old Testament. In the Book of Zephaniah, we find these words “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion.... The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.... The Lord, your God, in your midst, a warrior who gives victory” (So 3,14-17).
In these words a twofold promise is made to Israel, to the daughter of Zion: God will come as a saviour and will pitch his tent in his people’s midst, in the womb of the daughter of Zion. This promise is fulfilled to the letter in the dialogue between the Angel and Mary. Mary is identified with the people espoused by God, she is truly the daughter of Zion in person; in her the expectation of the definitive coming of God is fulfilled, in her the Living God makes his dwelling place.
In the greeting of the Angel Mary is called “full of grace”. In Greek, the term “grace”, charis, has the same linguistic root as the word “joy”. In this term too the source of Mary’s exultation is further clarified: her joy comes from grace, that is, from being in communion with God, from having such a vital connection with him, from being the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, totally fashioned by God’s action. Mary is the creature who opened the door to her Creator in a special way, placing herself in his hands without reserve. She lived entirely from and in her relationship with the Lord; she was disposed to listen, alert to recognizing the signs of God in the journey of his people; she was integrated into a history of faith and hope in God’s promises with which the fabric of her life was woven. And she submitted freely to the word received, to the divine will in the obedience of faith.
The Evangelist Luke tells Mary’s story by aligning it closely to the history of Abraham. Just as the great Patriarch is the father of believers who responded to God’s call to leave the land in which he lived, to leave behind all that guaranteed his security in order to start out on the journey to an unknown land, assured only in the divine promise, so Mary trusts implicitly in the word that the messenger of God has announced to her, and becomes the model and Mother of all believers.
I would like to emphasize another important point: the opening of the soul to God and to his action in faith also includes an element of obscurity. The relationship of human beings with God does not delete the distance between Creator and creature, it does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said before the depth of God’s wisdom: “How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rm 11,33).
Yet those who — like Mary — open themselves totally to God, come to accept the divine will, even though it is mysterious, although it often does not correspond with their own wishes, and is a sword that pierces their soul, as the elderly Simeon would say prophetically to Mary when Jesus was presented in the Temple (cf. Lc 2,35). Abraham’s journey of faith included the moment of joy in the gift of his son Isaac, but also the period of darkness, when he had to climb Mount Moriah to execute a paradoxical order: God was asking him to sacrifice the son he had just given him. On the mountain, the Angel told him: “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gn 22,12). Abraham's full trust in the God who is faithful to his promises did not fail, even when his word was mysterious and difficult, almost impossible to accept. So it is with Mary. Her faith experienced the joy of the Annunciation, but also passed through the gloom of the crucifixion of the Son to be able to reach the light of the Resurrection.
It is exactly the same on the journey of faith of each one of us: we encounter patches of light, but we also encounter stretches in which God seems absent, when his silence weighs on our hearts and his will does not correspond with ours, with our inclination to do as we like. However, the more we open ourselves to God, welcome the gift of faith and put our whole trust in him — like Abraham, like Mary — the more capable he will make us, with his presence, of living every situation of life in peace and assured of his faithfulness and his love. However, this means coming out of ourselves and our own projects so that the word of God may be the lamp that guides our thoughts and actions.
I would like once again to ponder on an aspect that surfaces in the infancy narratives of Jesus recounted by St Luke. Mary and Joseph take their Son to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to present him to the Lord and to consecrate him as required by Mosaic Law: “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord” (cf. Lc 2,22-24). The Holy Family’s action acquires an even more profound meaning if we interpret it in the light of the evangelical knowledge of the 12-year-old Jesus. After three days of searching he was found in the Temple in conversation with the teachers. The deeply anxious words of Mary and Joseph: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously”, are in conformity with Jesus’ mysterious answer: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lc 2,48-49). The significance lies in the Father’s property, “in my Father’s house”, as a son is.
Mary is obliged to renew the profound faith with which she said “yes” at the Annunciation; she must accept that it is the true and proper Father of Jesus who has precedence; she must be able to leave the Son she has brought forth free to follow his mission. And Mary’s “yes” to God’s will, in the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life, until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross.
Confronting all this, we may ask ourselves: how was Mary able to journey on beside her Son with such a strong faith, even in darkness, without losing her full trust in the action of God? Mary assumes a fundamental approach in facing what happens in her life. At the Annunciation, on hearing the Angel’s words she is distressed — it is the fear a person feels when moved by God’s closeness — but it is not the attitude of someone who is afraid of what God might ask. Mary reflects, she ponders on the meaning of this greeting (cf. Lc 1,29). The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this “reflection”, “dielogizeto”, calls to mind the etymology of the word “dialogue”.
This means that Mary enters into a deep conversation with the Word of God that has been announced to her, she does not consider it superficially but meditates on it, lets it sink into her mind and her heart so as to understand what the Lord wants of her, the meaning of the announcement.
We find another hint of Mary's inner attitude to God’s action — again in the Gospel according to St Luke — at the time of Jesus’ birth, after the adoration of the shepherds. Luke affirms that Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lc 2,19). In Greek the term is symballon, we could say that she “kept together”, “pieced together” in her heart all the events that were happening to her; she placed every individual element, every word, every event, within the whole and confronted it, cherished it, recognizing that it all came from the will of God.
Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what is happening in her life, but can look in depth, she lets herself be called into question by events, digests them, discerns them, and attains the understanding that only faith can provide. It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes within her even what she does not understand in God’s action, leaving it to God to open her mind and heart. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lc 1,45), her kinswoman Elizabeth exclaims. It is exactly because of this faith that all generations will call her blessed.
Dear friends, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord which we shall soon be celebrating invites us to practise this same humility and obedience of faith. The glory of God is not expressed in the triumph and power of a king, it does not shine out in a famous city or a sumptuous palace, but makes its abode in a virgin’s womb and is revealed in the poverty of a child. In our lives too, the almightiness of God acts with the force — often in silence — of truth and love. Thus faith tells us that in the end the defenceless power of that Child triumphs over the clamour of worldly powers. Many thanks!
To special groups:
I offer a warm welcome to Japanese pilgrims from the Diocese of Kagoshima. My cordial greeting also goes to the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience I invoke God’s blessings for a happy and holy celebration of the coming feast of Christmas.
I address a special greeting to the young people, to the sick and to the newlyweds. Dear young people, especially you students of the Capriotti Institute in San Benedetto del Tronto, may you approach the mystery of Bethlehem with the same sentiments of faith and humility as Mary. Dear sick people, may you draw from the manger scene that joy and inner peace that Jesus comes to bring to the world. And may you, dear newlyweds, contemplate the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth, to impress the virtues practised in it upon the journey of your family life.
Paul VI Audience Hall20113
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Once again the Nativity of the Lord illuminates the gloom that often envelops our world and our hearts and with its light brings hope and joy. Where does this light come from? From the Bethlehem Grotto where the shepherds found “Mary and Joseph, and the babe, lying in a manger” (Lc 2,16). Another, deeper question arises before this Holy Family: how can that tiny, frail Child have brought into the world a newness so radical that it changed the course of history? Is there not perhaps something mysterious about his origins which goes beyond that grotto?
The question of Jesus’ origins recurs over and over again. It is the same question that the Procurator Pontius Pilate asked during the trial: “where are you from?” (Jn 19,9). Yet his origins were quite clear. In John’s Gospel when the Lord says: “I am the bread which came down from heaven”, the Jews reacted, murmuring: “is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6,41).
Moreover, a little later the citizens of Jerusalem strongly opposed Jesus’ messianic claim, asserting that “where this man comes from” was well known; and that “when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” (Jn 7,27). Jesus himself points out how inadequate their claim to know his origins is and by so doing he already offers a clue to knowing where he came from: “I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know” (Jn 7,28). Jesus was of course a native of Nazareth, he was born in Bethlehem; but what is known of his true origins?
In the four Gospels, the answer is clear as to where Jesus “comes from”. His true origins are in the Father, God; he comes totally from him [God], but in a different way from that of any of God’s prophets or messengers who preceded him. This origin in the mystery of God, “whom no one knows” is already contained in the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that we are reading during this Christmastide. The Angel Gabriel proclaimed: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lc 1,35).
We repeat these words every time we recite the Creed, the Profession of Faith: “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, ex Maria Virgine”, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”. At this sentence we kneel, for the veil that concealed God is lifted, as it were, and his unfathomable and inaccessible mystery touches us: God becomes the Emmanuel, “God-with-us”. When we hear the Masses written by the great composers of sacred music — I am thinking, for example, of Mozart’s Coronation Mass — we immediately notice how they pause on this phrase in a special way, as if they were trying to express in the universal language of music what words cannot convey: the great mystery of God who took flesh, who was made man.
If we consider carefully the words: “by the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, we notice that they include four active subjects. The Holy Spirit and Mary are mentioned explicitly, but “he”, namely, the Son, who took flesh in the Virgin’s womb, is implicit. In the Profession of Faith, the Creed, Jesus is described with several epithets: “Lord... Christ, Only-Begotten Son of God... God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God... consubstantial with the Father” (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed). We can therefore see that “he” refers to another person, the Father. Consequently the first subject of this sentence is the Father who, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is the one God.
This affirmation of the Creed does not concern God’s eternal being but, rather, speaks to us of an action in which the three divine Persons take part and which is brought about “ex Maria Virgine”. Without Mary God’s entry into the history of humanity would not have achieved its purpose, and what is central to our Profession of Faith would not have taken place: God is a “God-with-us”. Thus Mary belongs irrevocably to our faith in God who acts, who enters history. She makes her whole person available, she “agrees” to become God’s dwelling place.
Sometimes, on our journey and in our life of faith, we can sense our poverty, our inadequacy in the face of the witness we must offer to the world. However God chose, precisely, a humble woman, in an unknown village, in one of the most distant provinces of the great Roman Empire. We must always trust in God, even in the face of the most gruelling difficulties, renewing our faith in his presence and action in our history, just as in Mary’s. Nothing is impossible to God! With him our existence always journeys on safe ground and is open to a future of firm hope.
In professing in the Creed: “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”, we affirm that the Holy Spirit, as the power of the Most High God, mysteriously brought about in the Virgin Mary the conception of the Son of God. The Evangelist Luke recorded the Archangel Gabriel’s words: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lc 1,35).
Two references are obvious: the first is to the moment of the Creation. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis we read that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gn 1,2); this is the Creator Spirit who gave life to all things and to the human being. What is brought about in Mary, through the action of this same divine Spirit, is a new creation: God, who called forth being from nothing, by the Incarnation gives life to a new beginning of humanity. The Fathers of the Church sometimes speak of Christ as the new Adam in order to emphasize that the new creation began with the birth of the Son of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb. This makes us think about how faith also brings us a newness so strong that it produces a second birth. Indeed, at the beginning of our life as Christians there is Baptism, which causes us to be reborn as children of God and makes us share in the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father. And I would like to point out that Baptism is received, we “are baptized” — it is passive — because no one can become a son of God on his own. It is a gift that is freely given. St Paul recalls this adoptive sonship of Christians in a central passage of his Letter to the Romans, where he writes: “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rm 8,14-16), not slaves. Only if we open ourselves to God’s action, like Mary, only if we entrust our life to the Lord as to a friend whom we totally trust, will everything change, will our whole life acquire a new meaning, a new aspect: that of children with a father who loves us and never deserts us.
We have spoken of two elements: the first was the Spirit moving on the surface of the waters, the Creator Spirit: there is another element in the words of the Annunciation. The Angel said to Mary: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you”. This is an re-evocation of the holy cloud that, during the Exodus, halted over the tent of meeting, over the Ark of the Covenant that the People of Israel were carrying with them and that indicated God’s presence (cf. Ex Ex 40,34-38).
Mary, therefore, is the new holy tent, the new ark of the covenant: with her “yes” to the Archangel’s words, God received a dwelling place in this world, the One whom the universe cannot contain took up his abode in a Virgin’s womb.
Let us therefore return to the initial question, the one about Jesus’ origins that is summed up by Pilate’s question: “where are you from?”. What Jesus’ true origins are is clear from our reflections, from the very beginning of the Gospels: he is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, he comes from God. We have before us the great and overwhelming mystery which we are celebrating in this Christmas season. The Son of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is an announcement that rings out ever new and in itself brings hope and joy to our hearts because, every time, it gives us the certainty that even though we often feel weak, poor and incapable in the face of the difficulties and evil in the world, God’s power is always active and works miracles through weakness itself. His grace is our strength (cf. 2Co 12,9-10). Many thanks.
* * *
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present, including pilgrims from Norway, Japan, Vietnam and the United States. Upon you and your families I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy, peace and prosperity for the year which has just begun. Happy New Year!
Paul VI Audience Hall
Audiences 2005-2013 51212